A Fishy Meal

By: Patricia Egan, Category: Science, Date: 11 Dec 2013

Was fish ever on the Australian Museum Curator's breakfast menu?

1881 accession letter

1881 accession letter
Photographer:  © Australian Museum

The Australian Museum archive holds the documents that record the accessioning details of new specimens. Buried amongst these schedules, one of our industrious volunteers came across a letter with a delightful post script.

This letter referred to a “curious” fish caught by W P McLean at 1pm on May 23rd 1881. The fish was described in the letter : “the wings were extended and shone through the water with great brilliancy and beauty” and was sent to the Australian Museum for identification. W P McLean, who had fished in the waters around La Perouse for many years, had never seen such a fish before.

As the accompanying extract shows, the fish, if not worth preserving, was offered for the Curator’s breakfast.  Being 19 ½ inches in length it would have been a substantial meal. Was the Curator tempted?  Of course, we do not know as being a “very fine specimen”of a Chelidonichthys kumu  it was duly registered in the Australian Museum’s fish collection.

A recent enquiry of our current Collection Manager said he had never received a similar offer – offers of this type were of their time.